VANCOUVER — Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came out of retirement with one goal in mind. They envision standing on the Olympic medal podium when the curtain comes down on their competitive career. Only the top step will do.
So when they lost for the first time in more than a year at the Grand Prix Final in December, the veteran ice dancers headed back to the drawing board.
Virtue and Moir will unveil revamped programs, particularly their free dance to “Moulin Rouge,” at this week’s Canadian figure skating championships in Vancouver, a bold move they believe will help propel them to gold.
“We don’t plan on coming second at the Olympics like we did at Grand Prix finals,” Moir said. ”We’re excited to showcase a lot of new elements for us. A couple of big changes that we’re really excited about. We’ve worked quite hard in December.”
The 28-year-old Virtue and Moir, 30, captured gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but were beaten by American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White four years later in Sochi.
Two years into a trial retirement, they decided to launch a comeback, and roared to a spectacular unbeaten streak that included world championship gold and a string of world record scores. But they lost to Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at last month’s Grand Prix Final by less than three points.
The most significant change comes in their free dance, which opens to “Roxanne” and ends with the dreamy “Come What May,” sung by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor.
They’ve made some edits to the music, to emphasize “the duet and the love story, culminating in a bigger, more theatrical ending,” Virtue said.
“Having trained and performed this program so many times, it’s ingrained in our bodies and we’re so committed to this storyline, and we love it, but bringing in some fresh movement, it feels like the programs are reborn. And we are thrilled with the direction it’s taken. I think it will be hopefully more appealing to the masses.”
“It was time to let it build and really have that Olympic feeling at the end.”
Virtue and Moir train at the same rink as Papadakis and Cizeron, a situation that draws comparisons to their pre-Sochi environment. Back then they shared a rink with Davis and White, plus a coach in Marina Zoueva. When they came out of retirement, they moved to Montreal where they train with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.
Once again, they have front-row seats to their biggest competitors on a daily basis. But rather than drawing direct comparisons, Moir said they use it as motivation.
“We will watch a little bit of tape, especially when you’re trying to understand marks … what’s getting good levels, we will watch a little bit. But we mostly leave that up to our coaching staff. That’s strategizing against other teams and being compared, it’s something we want to stay away from.
“I got carried away with that in the past. It wasn’t helpful. It actually kind of robbed me of what I love most about this sport — enjoying skating with Tessa.”
Pyeongchang will be the culmination of an outstanding career 21 years in the making. They’ve won seven world championship medals, including three gold, and seven Canadian titles — coincidentally earning their first title a decade ago in this same West Coast city.
It’s tough not to be sentimental as they near the end of their career, Virtue said.
“This whole comeback process has just been so fulfilling and incredibly rewarding,” she said. ”We’ve been trying to embrace it, every bit of it. The anxiety and the pressure and the stress is all building … so we’re trying to remember that this is such a privilege, all of this pressure, it’s such an opportunity for us.
“We’re in a fabulous position, we really just have to embrace it all, the highs and lows, and be present every step of the way.”
Canada will send three ice dance teams to Pyeongchang. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are expected to secure the two other spots.
The senior competition at the Canadian championships begins Friday at Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre.